Friday, April 16, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 5 - Canine-Animal Fight

Interesting that Terl's first impulse when things started going wrong was to jump in a plane he conveniently had keys to and fly away.

Anyway, Jonnie flies a few miles north to where the Scots playing overwatch and Terl are engaged in a no doubt fierce aerial battle. Then Terl's plane breaks off as if fleeing. Jonnie "suddenly" intuits that it's a feint, but is unable to warn his comrades due to radio silence. Because either the Psychlos in the compound below are too stupid to call for help, or the other Psychlos on the planet are too stupid to notice a sudden cessation of communications from the planetary headquarters.

Terl downs the Scots' plane, then cruelly dives to shoot up the ejecting pilots. Jonnie punishes the alien with a salvo from his "artillery blasters" (oi...), but suddenly Terl's plane vanishes, reappearing above Jonnie.

And now I'm confused. Waaaay back in Part 6, Chapter 5 there was an attempt to explain how Psychlo teleportation engines worked. It sounded like aircraft flew around like normal, just with the caveat that they weren't being propelled by thrusters but were instead teleporting along a series of coordinates, which had the same effect while being needless complicated. Now suddenly the ships are just teleporting all over the place without such nonsense. There's no mention of Terl and the Scots winking in and out of existence, constantly shifting position to get a good angle on their enemy. But when Jonnie and Terl start their aerial duel-

Actually, what happens first is another sudden outbreak of telepathy from our hero. "Abruptly Jonnie realized that Terl was going to ignore him and try to get back to the compound and shoot up the ground troops." Unless it's another feint. Or Terl's injured and hit the wrong button. Or Terl's spotted an incoming Psychlo fleet and is moving to regroup with them. Or any number of possible plausible explanations that Jonnie doesn't contemplate because they aren't the right explanation.

Then the aforementioned teleport-spamming dogfight happens. Jonnie puts himself in Terl's way, and then it's the two of them trying to guess where the other'll appear next. Jonnie guesses right for a streak only to belatedly realize it's a trap, and he narrowly avoids being shot down. Then Terl breaks off again, and this time Jonnie remembers that he's facing a wily Psychlo and suspects a trap. But then he sees Chrissie and Pattie on his heat scanners, riding north, "their horses' bellies to the ground as they raced along."

What's Terl's favorite word again? Leverage. Sure enough, when Jonnie opens his radio channel he hears Terl order him to land or else the girls are toast.

...which means that there's nothing preventing Terl from sending a warning to the other Psychlos on the planet, or fighter craft don't have the range to contact distant installations. In either case it makes Jonnie's commitment to radio silence rather pointless.

Instead of caving in, Jonnie rams Terl's ship and engages the magnetic clamps on the underside of every Psychlo warplane. And I must pause, because I just don't understand what happens next. These ships, which are able to teleport around at will, are somehow stuck together now. Their teleportation "motors" are "screaming in discord, fighting against one another in howling dissonance." The planes are suddenly behaving like normal vehicles trying to go in two different directions but stuck together, rather than fantastic vessels that can change position by hundreds of feet in the blink of an eye.

Anyway. Jonnie's gambit is to set his plane's coordinates for "six feet underground, directly below, four thousand feet down, speed control at hypersonic." Then he bails out and engages his jetpack, hoping to frag Terl with his own gun when the Psychlo does the same. But Terl does something different, and once again Jonnie somehow deduces what his opponent is doing.

What Terl was doing in that jerking, fighting mess where one ship's motors fought the other's, was trying to outguess the settings of the plane that rode his back. If he could, both motors would agree. Possibly, then, a quick roll and reversal of the settings would throw the other ship off his back.

And guess what happens? Terl figures out the combination. But then the Psychlo also figures out that he's now on a suicidal course, and starts struggling out of the fatal dive. Yes, dive. He's not teleporting straight into the ground, he's nosediving like a normal plane again. Also note that despite Terl's ship moving at "hypersonic" speeds, Jonnie is able to watch the Psychlo pound buttons in his cockpit.

Five hundred feet above the ground Terl manages to reverse his course, and breaks physics. The sudden 180 degree course change does not turn his aircraft into a metal pancake, but inertia kicks in and carries his ship within twenty feet of the ground. This is the first time in the dogfight that momentum and whatnot has mattered despite the ships changing positions and courses and speeds a ludicrous number of times.

Eh, I never liked physics anyway.

And then, because all this is too much a strain on the two ships' motors, the vehicles explode, forcibly ejecting Terl. As Jonnie jetpacks his way to a hundred feet above the wreck the chapter ends with Terl still rolling.

Why all the exact measurements? I guess Jonnie's got a rangefinder somewhere.

Back to Chapter Four

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